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Somatosonic at the crucible

By IGAN D'BAYAN, The Philippine Star Published Dec 11, 2023 5:00 am

We’re all mad here.

For their performance at the recent opening of their “Pneumatic Synergetic” exhibition at The Crucible Gallery, multi-disciplinary artists Marco Ortiga and Tad Ermitaño initially wanted to drill holes into the prized cello of Christina Dy (CD). She, understandably, balked at the idea, so Marco promptly created a homemade bowed instrument.

“Marco makes these impressive pieces,” explained Tad. “Meanwhile, I make these prototype, barong-barong stuff (laughs).”

Dy—aside from pole dancing and punctuating the music with the stomping of her stiletto boots on the mic’d-up stage—bowed the Frankenstein of a cello over a sonic sorcery of loops, beats, accidental melodies, chance musical passages, and discordant electronic adagios and static conjured by Ermitaño and Ortiga. It was a constant interplay, back and forth, call and response. It was noisy and glorious at the same time. Tad added, “It made it easier for CD to accept playing ‘noise cello’ and to do impolite things to it.”

Singing the body electric: Somatosonic is composed of Marco Ortiga, Tad Ermitaño and Christina Dy (CD).

Impoliteness or irreverence figures massively in the iconoclastic approach to art by the three artists collectively known as Somatosonic, but they are not solely defined by it. (Anyway, we need a bit more impertinence in the Filipino art scene dominated by polite parlor portraits of socialites and harmless abstracts.)

The three artists collaborated on sculptures, photographs, video installations and thought-provoking pieces that are on view until Jan. 7, 2024 at The Crucible Gallery.

“Kinograms” features Christina Dy drawing patterns in the air with an LED baton. That baton’s movements were extracted from a video recording with a computer program written by Tad.

The pieces were borne out of a two-week residency in Calatagan, Batangas. Dy shared, “Ang ganda ng sunset, so naisipan namin to make light paintings using the sunset as a background. And it was so windy, so Tad said he had this idea of a wind harp while Marco wanted to fly a kite. We bought a kite sa palengke. But Marco wanted to make a kite in his usual geometric approach.”

They did research on the other types of kites such as the guryon with the sumba—and afterwards fashioned instruments based on the wind concept.

“Tetrix Kite”: The kite’s surface is made from dichroic film with its color changing depending on the direction of light.

“We love machines!” explained Tad. “It was so easy to make machines that can interact with the wind, which is basically an energy source or a source of power. So, everything that we made during the residency was wind-based. We sonified the kite, we played with the Aeolian harp— the seeds were planted in Calatagan.”

Installation view of “Pneumatic Synergetic”

Ermitaño pointed out the title of the show “Pneumatic Synergetic” stresses how all three working together is greater than the sum of its parts. “Pneuma originally means breath. As you know, conspiracy or conspirare means to breathe together, so sama-sama kami in the process of creating.”

Tad is in charge of electronics and programming; Marco does all the fabrications and everything kinetic; and CD is the visual artist, dancer and video editor. Brainstorming during DNT (“drink ‘n’ think”) Mondays, the three are able to cook up cross-disciplinary projects that are a far cry from the usual swill that you see in art fairs or auction houses.

Changing gears: Some of the machines used by Somatosonic in making music

For the performance at The Crucible, Ermitaño explained, “Marco did a lot of Ableton stuff. As for me, I operated on found objects, prototypes, garbage-like—’yung tungkod, ’yung spring. When we see CD dance, we sonify her movements, her slams, the scraping of her boots. In the future, we want to put sensors on her body (that will activate sound via her movements). What we usually do is to build the tools first and then we go, ‘Saan kaya puwede pumunta ‘to?’ (As Somatosonic) we’ve only scratched the surface of what we can do.”

The Crucible’s Sari Ortiga (left) with Aaron Veloso; Vic Veloso; Tad, CD and Marco of Somatosonic; Chari Elinzano; Jun Veloso and Sarah Veloso

To think that this band of abstract noise conjurers has just barely begun its exploration and experimentation is both scary and alluring at the same time.

* * *

“Pneumatic Synergetic” is on view until Jan. 7, 2024 at The Crucible Gallery, fourth floor, SM Megamall A, Mandaluyong City. Simultaneously, the gallery is opening an exhibit tomorrow, Dec. 12, featuring the works of Gus Albor, Pandy Aviado, Junyee and Nestor Vinluan in The Crucible’s new space (on the same floor as the old gallery location). It will be The Crucible Gallery’s space in Megamall starting Jan. 7, 2024. Sari Ortiga says, “The Crucible Gallery started off with Cesar Legaspi and Arturo Luz, and we will be ending our run in the old space with Somatosonic featuring Marco, Tad and CD. The journey in between is one for art history books.” This is part of The Crucible’s transition to the Red Barn workshop in Calamba, Laguna which will be opened to the public in 2025.